There is joy and sadness after the final buzzer sounds on every game during the NCAA Tournament. But not every game begins with animosity. Not every game rekindles a longstanding feud between teams whose enmity dates back to 1913.
In other words, not every game is played between Louisville and Kentucky.
Those rivals will take the floor in Indianapolis on Friday night in the most vitriolic matchup in the Sweet 16 of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. There is no happy-just-to-be-there Cinderella in this pairing. There is only a decades-long familiarity that has bred nothing but contempt and national championships.
From that Bluegrass clash in the Midwest Region to an unlikely pairing of double-digit seeds in the South, here is a look at all eight regional semifinals matchups, ranked in order of expected hostility.
When these intra-state rivals met in the Final Four in 2012
, HuffPost's Howard Fineman described the clash as "Basketball Armageddon
." The only thing that has changed since that heated game is that both teams have won national championships. Rick Pitino's defending champion Louisville Cardinals will face John Calipari's ascendant Kentucky Wildcats in the most contentious matchup in the Sweet 16. These teams met in the NCAA Tournament as far back as in 1951
and played as recently during the regular season as December 2013
The NCAA Tournament selection committee named Virginia the top seed in the East Region. Shortly thereafter, the ESPN analysts named Michigan State
the favorite to win the national championship. Neither team will bow out in the Sweet 16 without putting up a fight. Even after winning the ACC regular-season and tournament titles, the Cavaliers will still feel like they're fighting for respect when they take the floor at Madison Square Garden on Friday night. Meanwhile, the senior Spartans want to keep Tom Izzo's incredible Final Four streak
alive for their sake and his.
Florida, the No. 1 overall seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, will face a stern test in No. 4 UCLA. In an East-West matchup of contrasting styles, the Gators' defense will have to stop the Bruins' explosive offensive playmakers to advance to the Elite Eight. With Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams leading the charge, UCLA will look to force Florida into an up-tempo game.
“They’re a unique basketball team,” Gators forward Casey Prather said on Wednesday, via The Associated Press
. “They have guards that post up and bigs who can shoot. They do a great job in transition. They’re very good on offense so we’ve just got to do a good job of meeting the challenge.”
This matchup may just be the opening act at Madison Square Garden on Friday night but don't tell any of the UConn fans filling the stands. Befitting the game's host city, the partisan crowd should give this game in the Big Apple some bite. With UConn's Shabazz Napier and Iowa State's DeAndre Kane facing off in what should be a scintillating backcourt duel, this one could get personal.
These Sweet 16 foes crossed paths earlier this season when Arizona, ranked No. 6 at the time, escaped from Viejas Arena with a 69-60 win
. The underdogs will be looking for revenge in this regional semifinal and won't show any deference to star players wearing Arizona uniforms.
"They're out to prove that they're better than the outside world has given them credit," Arizona coach Sean Miller
said of San Diego State on Wednesday. "I think just their program in general, I think they have a chip on their shoulder that when you play them, it is a very competitive, hard‑fought game."
Both schools' proximity to Anaheim, Calif., should ensure another raucous atmosphere.
In perhaps the least hyped of the Sweet 16 matchups, Wisconsin and Baylor meet for the first time
in men's basketball. Even without any longstanding animosity, this battle between Bo Ryan's meticulous Wisconsin Badgers and the rangy, speedy Baylor team that shutdown the nation's leading scorer should be tense. Given Wisconsin's disciplined, time-sapping offensive style, every possession figures to be imbued with end-game importance. Combine that methodical approach with the frenzied attack Baylor used to upset No. 3 Creighton and something has got to give.
The third double-digit seed remaining in the NCAA Tournament, No. 11 Tennessee will be playing with house money against No. 2 Michigan when the teams meet in Indianapolis on Friday. The sharpshooting Wolverines cruised through their first two games and have managed to avoid drama en route to the Sweet 16. Meanwhile, the Volunteers emerged from the First Four to reach the Sweet 16. If Michigan's shots aren't falling from the perimeter then this matchup will get more dramatic in a hurry.
This matchup is the only one in the Sweet 16 to feature a pair of double-digit seeds. The No. 11 Flyers upset No. 6 Ohio State and No. 3 Syracuse to reach the second weekend of the Big Dance while No. 10 Stanford sent No. 2 Kansas and No. 7 New Mexico home. Both squads have already exceeded expectations and pulled off upset wins that will be remembered regardless of what happens on Thursday night in Memphis, Tenn.
"Every year there's that one team in the like final eight, Final Four that no one expected to be there, and that's been our mantra like 'Why can't that be us this year?'" Dayton center Matt Kavanaugh said on Wednesday, via The Associated Press